How to safely swaddle a baby

Swaddling your newborn could help him to sleep

by Aimee Jakes |

There are many benefits of swaddling your baby. We show you how to do it safely...

Your baby was kept all snug and cosy while in your womb, so it’s no surprise that they'll enjoy that same, safe and warm feeling once they're born.

Swaddling – a practice that’s been carried out for thousands of years – can be an effective method of helping your baby to sleep. Not only does it help keep baby feeling safe and warm, swaddling can prevent their tiny arms and legs flailing about during sleep which can trigger their startle response also known as the Moro reflex, potentially causing them to wake. 

‘Wrapping your baby in a swaddle mimics the feeling of security he felt when in the womb and can really help when settling a new baby,’ says baby consultant Alison Scott-Wright. ‘However, even in the womb, babies can move and turn so it's important that the swaddle isn’t too tight or restrictive as this could cause problems within the hip joints.’

The best material to use for a swaddle is 100% jersey cotton as the natural elasticity in this material allows your baby to move, flex and stretch. ‘You can buy ready-made swaddles, and most of them are made in this jersey fabric and are quite simple to use,’ says Alison.

How to swaddle your baby safely: Step by step guide 

There are a number of different swaddling techniques to use when swaddling your baby, but we think this is the easiest and safest.

Step 1: Layout your swaddle

Lay out the swaddle on a flat surface and place your baby on his back, with the top hem of the swaddle under the back of his neck. If you don’t have a special swaddle, fold the cloth into a large triangle, with the point of the triangle facing towards you.

Step 2: Positioning your baby

‘Fold his arms across his chest and NEVER swaddle with arms down by his sides,’ says Alison. ‘This is far too restricting and could be dangerous.

Step 3:Wrapping your baby

With your left hand, hold his arms in place whilst reaching across with your right hand to pull over the left side of the swaddle over baby's left arm and chest. As you pull it over cover his hands, with the hem of the swaddle going right up under the chin. Keep the swaddle taut and bring it over his left side and shoulder and tuck it round, under his back.

‘Once it's securely tucked under his back repeat the same with the right side by pulling it over and tucking it firmly under his left side,’ says Alison. ‘Each side of the swaddle should form a small V-shape under his chin.’

Step 4: Securing the swaddle

‘Finally, flip the free material at the bottom part of the swaddle up and over the feet, tucking the loose ends around the back of the legs,’ says Alison. Make sure his legs are slightly bent at the hips in a ‘frog’ position and leave the material lose enough so that he can move them and to prevent hip dysplasia.

Millie Mackintosh recently shared how her daughter, Sienna has struggled with baby hip dysplasia.

It’s been an emotional few days over here…Sienna had a routine hip scan at 6 weeks because she was breech from 28 weeks onwards, it showed one hip socket was under developed but I was reassured it was likely to sort itself out by 12 weeks, but they booked her in for another scan just to make sure. Despite being naturally worried initially, I put it to the back of my mind and got on with things. But when we went for our second scan, I was shocked and saddened to learn she has infact got developmental hip dysplasia and the treatment is to wear a special harness all the time for 6-12 weeks. Apparently, it has a 90% chance of totally correcting her hip, so she hopefully shouldn’t need surgery or have any issues with her movement, so we are remaining positive and grateful that we found out early 🤞🏻The hardest part is that I can’t hold her properly to cuddle her and finding a comfortable breast feeding position is really difficult while we adapt to this change in our reality, a reality that we’ve worked so hard on! It feels like we are back at the new born stage, her routine has gone out the window and we are having to learn how to care for her all over again. I know lots of parents have been through this and similar issues with their babies, I would love to hear your experiences. Any advice on how to make her more comfortable would be much appreciated as although she is being very brave she is confused and frustrated that she can’t move her legs and it’s really challenging emotionally as parents to see her so distressed #babyhipdysplasia #pavlikharness 💗

Safety tips from the Lullaby Trust 

The Lullaby Trust don’t advise for or against swaddling, but they do urge parents to follow some simple guidelines:

  • Swaddle using thin materials.

  • Do not swaddle above baby’s shoulders.

  • Do not swaddle too tight.

  • Always put a swaddled baby to sleep on their back and never on their front or side.

  • Regularly monitor baby’s temperature to ensure they do not get too hot. Feel the back of their neck. If their skin is clammy or sweaty, remove one or more layers of bedclothes.

‘If parents decide to swaddle their baby, it should be adopted from birth and continued for each day and night-time sleep as part of their regular sleep routine. Swaddling should be stopped as soon as a baby shows signs they are beginning to roll,’ The Lullaby Trust told us.

Alison recommends taking the following health information into consideration:

  • Ensure your baby will not overheat by using appropriate clothing determined on the temperatures in your baby’s room or the house.

  • Once in a swaddle, many babies will lie incredibly still and with most sleeping on their backs this can induce plagiocephaly (a flattening at the back or the side of the head) and also cause a stiffness in the hip joints. Ensure you use a plagiocephaly pillow and as you place your baby in the crib very slightly tilt him onto his side so he can bend his knees up. Each time you put your baby to bed alternate this slight, side inclination from right to left so his head remains rounded and cushioned in the pillow.

  • Never place a baby on his front, face down when in a swaddle.

  • Swaddling is only advised for the first six to eight weeks maximum and around week four to six it's a good idea to start gradually loosening the swaddle so your baby slowly gets used to being without it.

Meet the expert: Alison Scott-Wright is a baby consultant at Tinies and author of The Sensational Baby Sleep Plan.